In October 2016, Dr. Mariss assumed the position of assistant professor at the University of Regenburg.
“Räume, Dinge und Praktiken des Wissens im 18. Jahrhundert. Die Erforschung der Natur bei Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798)” (“A World of New Things”: Johann Reinhold Forster’s Practices of Natural History)
My dissertation investigates the practices of knowledge in the field of natural history in the Age of the Enlightenment as evidenced in the work of the scholar and national historian Johann Reinhold Forster (1729–1798). For a long time, natural history was viewed by both historians of biology and philosophy as a sort of predecessor to modern biology and a static system of data compilation. In more recent years, however, cultural historians have begun to revise this persistent picture of a rigid, inert natural history confined within its classification schemes. As one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging disciplines of knowledge in the Enlightenment, natural history can be seen not only as a form of scholarship but also as a diverse sociocultural phenomenon. More so than other scholarly disciplines, early modern natural history was characterized by specific social and cultural practices that cannot be fully grasped with the typical approaches of the history of ideas or mentalities.
My dissertation uses the life and work of Johann Reinhold Forster as a window into spaces of natural historical knowledge in the second half of the eighteenth century. Whereas a thematic, disciplinary approach runs the danger of presenting the processes or development of natural history along a clear trajectory and projecting anachronistic, modern distinctions between scientific disciplines onto the eighteenth century, this approach based on spaces allows for an analysis of the “odd epistemology” (Müller-Wille 2007) of natural history.
This involves juxtaposing the macrohistorical perspective of the world and its oceans with the microhistorical perspective of the sailing vessel. Paying attention to the dynamics that are created in this inseparable connection between ship and ocean sheds new light on the conditions and possibilities for the production of natural historical knowledge on such journeys around the world as well as its limitations. The second natural historical “space” examined in my dissertation is the early modern Republic of Letters, which I understand to be both a virtual constellation of intertwined individuals, objects, and texts and a network of far-reaching relationships of patronage. Using Forster’s correspondence, which has not yet been studied, I can analyze natural historical practice within this res publica litteraria. A final section of my study addresses the early modern university as a concrete space for the compilation and dissemination of natural historical knowledge.